Probing the Brahmsnebel, 1875-1910
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The evocative term ‘Brahmsnebel,’ appearing in German music criticism during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, aptly depicts the nebulous haze of composers throughout Europe who emulated Brahms’s compositional aesthetic in the years before and after his death. A pervasive, yet impalpable force by nature, Brahms’s influence has yet to be adequately probed in academic research. This dissertation, therefore, presents a series of case studies exploring a mix of representative and neglected composers from five regions: Austria (Webern), Hungary (Moór and Dohnányi), Italy (Martucci and Busoni), the UK (Stanford, Parry, and Smyth), and the United States (Amy Beach). By adopting a two-pronged historical and musical analysis approach, the questions answered concerning the Brahmsnebel include, what factors contributed to the spread of Brahms’s music throughout Europe and the Americas in the final quarter of the nineteenth century? How were aspects of Brahms’s musical language influential, if not, foundational to the creative output of composers operating beyond Austro-Germanic regions? What distinguishing characteristics of Brahms’s influence are present in a composer’s oeuvre? To chart the Brahmsnebel and its spatial movement, I rely on concert programs and archival materials to offer an empirically-supported narrative of Brahms’s performance history, of which conductors, performers, pedagogues, as well as institutions play direct roles. Similarly, these statistics vis-a-viz Brahms’s contemporaries offer the reader a barometer for comparison as judging his stature. As for individual composers and works reflecting Brahms’s influence, I highlight direct and indirect references to Brahms as a compositional model as a means to buttress the repertoire’s musical analysis. These references take the form of composers’ writings: textbooks, writings, diaries, memoirs, and reminiscences form a basis of these connections. My dissertation thus contributes to our understanding of Brahms’s historical positioning within the Western canon. On one hand, my research probes the nature and origins of how his stature was formed from a historical vantage point. On the other hand, discussions of influence, assimilation, and borrowing further ground our knowledge of Brahms’s stature, and by illuminating a number of neglected composers against the backdrop of Brahms, we come to recognize the transcultural effects of the Austro-German tradition among a variety of regions across the Western hemisphere. Finally, the selection of composers, specifically between 1875 and 1910, highlight an important transition within our music histories between the gap of late Romanticism of the nineteenth century and the early modernism of the twentieth.
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